|The Internet: On its International Origins and Collaborative Vision
A Work In-Progress
By Ronda Hauben
“[T]he effort at developing the Internet Protocols was international
from the beginning.”
Vinton Cerf, "How the Internet Came to Be"
The process of the Internet's development offers an important
prototype to understand the creation of a multinational
collaborative research project which depends on and fosters
communication across the boundaries of diverse administrative
structures, political entities, and technical designs.
The mythology surrounding the origins of the Internet is that it
began in 1969 in the US That is the date marking the origins
of the ARPANET (a US packet switching network), but not the
birth of the Internet. The origins of the Internet date from 1973.
The goal of the researchers creating the Internet was to create a
network of networks, a means for networks from diverse countries
to intercommunicate. Originally the design was to link up several
national but diverse packet switching networks including the ARPANET
US),Cyclades (France),and NPL (Great Britain). When that was not
politically feasible, the research project involved Norwegian,
British and American research groups, and researchers from other
countries, especially France, at various junctures. These research
groups did the early development work. The Internet was
international from its very beginnings.
The following work in progress begins the investigation of the collaboration between researchers from the US and several European countries in the early development of the Internet. Both Bob Kahn and Vint Cerf, Internet researchers who are credited with the invention of the TCP/IP protocol, have noted that the Internet was international from its very origins. Yet the common understanding of the development of the TCP/IP protocol, the protocol that made it possible to build the Internet, has been that it was an American development. This misconception prevents the development of an accurate public understanding of the origins of the Internet, and of the lessons that this early history can provide for the future. It is impossible to have achieved the development of an international network of networks, of the Internet, without the international participation and collaboration to build the prototype and the functioning implementations of the needed technology.
This hidden history involved researchers from Great Britain, France, Norway, Germany and Italy, and the US. Recently I have also learned of the knowledge and interest in computer networking of researchers in Eastern European countries including Hungary, Russia and East Germany. How the actual historical development unfolded cannot be known unless there is serious attention to this research while pioneers of these achievements are alive and can be interviewed and encouraged to provide the help they can give. In the following working draft I begin to document some of the links and events that have come to the fore. I hope this working draft will begin the discussion needed to raise some of the research questions involving the Internet’s origins that need scholarly collaborative attention especially while the Internet pioneers are still alive.
I- Introduction: How Will the History of the Internet Be Told?
In a review essay in the December 1998 issue of the American Historical Review, the author, Roy Rosenzweig points to how rarely most histories of the 20th century mention either computers or the Internet. Rosenzweig, however, predicts that this will soon change. He writes:
It is a fair guess that textbooks of the next century will devote
considerable attention to the Internet and larger changes in
information and communication technologies that have emerged so
dramatically in recent years.
Then he asks the question, "How will the history be written?"
Discussing several recent books about the history and development of the Internet, Rosenzweig suggests that no one single account is sufficient; that there will need to be a more adequate history written which will include aspects of all the books.
The review raises the question of what is needed to write the history of the Internet. It also considers whether the books already written meet the challenge or if there are essentials left out that can be investigated and documented.
Several of the books that have been written thus far focus mainly on the development of the ARPANET.(1) The ARPANET was an important predecessor to the Internet. It is the network that demonstrated to the world that large scale packet switching would be a feasible form of computer communications technology. Describing the ARPANET’s contribution to the development of the Internet, Robert Kahn, co-inventor of the TCP/IP protocol explains: "The ARPANET was helpful in that it demonstrated the power of networking even though for a single network and community. The kinds of things that happened there, happen in all kinds of networks and communities. It also showed the importance of protocols and introduced an example of protocol layering (e.g. FTP on top of NCP on top of the communication subnet.)"(Kahn, Email, September 15, 2002.) This new technology made possible the resource sharing of human and computer resources.(2) This background helps to understand the origins of the Internet.
The history of the ARPANET and of packet switching, however, is not the history of the Internet. The ARPANET was a single network that linked heterogeneous computer systems into a resource sharing network, first within the US, and eventually it had tentacles to computer systems in other countries.(3) The ARPANET also supported the sharing of human resources and enabled people to interact. But the computer systems had to meet certain requirements, including permission from the US government to connect to the ARPANET. The history of the ARPANET is the history of some of the foundations for the Internet. But it is not the history of the Internet. "What the ARPANET didn't address,” Kahn clarifies, “was the issue of interconnecting multiple networks and all the attendant issues that raised." (Kahn, Email, September 15, 2002)(4)
This paper is a beginning study of the origins, international in scope, of the Internet, and of the technology that made the Internet possible. This was the development of the TCP/IP protocol. The purpose of the paper is three fold. The first is to distinguish between the ARPANET and the Internet. In order to look at the origins and development of the Internet, it is important to recognize that the Internet is the solution to the multiple network problem, whereas the ARPANET and other packet switching networks were the solution to an earlier problem: the problem of communication among dissimilar computers and operating systems.(5)
Second, this paper documents the international collaboration and participation to create and develop the Internet that could span national borders and interconnect the computer communications networks of different countries. This collaboration involved the US, Norway and the UK and researchers from France and then Germany and Italy, at different stages in the process. Creating an Internet was a difficult problem to solve, not only theoretically, but practically as well. To understand the nature of the Internet, it is necessary to understand the multiple network problem and how it was solved. The difficulties were not only technical. Describing some of the difficulty he encountered, a British Internet pioneer, Peter Kirstein writes, "I was certainly ordered, in 1976, to stop work on the Internet Protocol but to concentrate only on European developments. I refused, and pursued several alternate paths for at least another decade." (Kirstein, Email, October 4, 2002.)
Third, a central aspect in the development of the Internet is the vision that inspired and provided the glue for the international collaborative research efforts. To explore the nature and origin of this vision helps to understand the research processes creating the TCP/IP protocol.
III - Packet Switching Networks
Early research efforts to develop a way of transporting computer data
led to the development of what is called "packet switching". Packet switching technology breaks a message into small sections of data, gives each of these addressing information called a header, which together with the data are called "packets". It then routes and delivers the packets, interspersed with other packets from other messages. After the packets reach their destination, the message is reconstructed. Paul Baran in the US and a few years later, and unaware of Baran's work, Donald Davies in the UK, developed similar concepts. In 1966 Davies implemented a packet switch connecting a set of host computers. Paal Spilling, a Norwegian Internet pioneer, refers to the resulting National Physical Laboratory (NPL) network as the first packet switching local area hub network. (Spilling, Email, August 2002)
In the US, there was interest in exploring the feasibility of packet switching for resource sharing computer networks. This interest led the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) to recruit Larry Roberts, a researcher at MIT's Lincoln Laboratories to join the Information Processing Techniques Office (IPTO). IPTO was planning to establish a packet switching network interconnecting a number of geographically dispersed dissimilar computers.
Networking technology was also of interest to other researchers around the world. In the early 1970s in France, Louis Pouzin was developing a French packet switching network, building on the lessons learned from previous packet switching research. He studied the research developments in the US and Great Britain, and along with his research group, created the Cyclades/Cigale network. In the UK, the NPL network was being developed by a research group headed by Donald Davies. In the US, there was the ARPANET development.(6) The question became how could these networks be interconnected, i.e. how would communication be possible across the boundaries of these dissimilar networks. (Ronda Hauben, “The Birth of the Internet”)
A plan at the time was to connect the ARPANET in the US, CYCLADES, in France and NPL in Great Britain. A memo written in 1973 describing early technical plans for this interconnection, included a diagram of these three networks linked by gateways. These gateways would make it possible to transmit messages across the boundaries of different constituent networks. Following is a replica of the diagram (Cerf, Memo, p. 5. See Also Graphic I):
( ) ( ) ( )
( ) ( ) ( )
( ) ( ) ( )
(Host)---(CYCLADES)----(gateway)---( ARPA )-----(gateway)----( NPL )
( ) ( ) ( )
( ) ( ) ( )
( ) ( ) ( )
Also there was a diagram of data going from a host computer on one computer network to a gateway and then to a host on another computer network.
Another description of the goal of connecting these 3 different networks, is presented at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA)in Laxenburg, Austria, in 1974. In a paper for a conference there, British researcher, Donald Davies writes:
“To achieve...the interconnection of packet switching systems we have to decide at what level they will interwork. The levels chosen
could be character stream, packet transport or the virtual circuit.
After some discussion, a group including ARPA, NPL, and CYCLADES is
trying out a scheme of interconnection based on a packet transport
network with an agreed protocol for message transport....
(Davies, “The Future of Computer Networks”, IIASA Conference
on Computer Communications Networks, October 21-25, 1974, p. 36)
Davies’ paper is helpful in documenting the interest in creating a metanetwork of other networks including the ARPANET, NPL and CYCLADES. Also, however, the occasion of the paper is significant. The IIASA is a research institute which supported collaboration among researchers from the Soviet Union and Eastern European countries and from the US, Western Europe and Japan. The conference in 1974 at which Davies spoke was a conference where researchers from these different countries were all introduced to networking technologies and developments of the time, including the ARPANET, NPL and CYCLADES developments.
At a workshop the following year in Laxenburg, in 1975, sponsored jointly by the IIASA and also the International Federation of Information Processing Organizations (IFIP), another British researcher, Peter Kirstein presented a paper that described the collaboration between the UK and the US in networking. The paper included a diagram of the satellite and ground connectivity between the ARPANET in the US and the University College London computers in UK. The diagram also showed the Norwegian connection to the US and UK networks. Kirstein’s paper, “The Uses of the ARPA Network via the University College London Node” was reported to have been exciting to those present and plans for a network connecting the researchers of the IIASA were developed. The list of those at this workshop included researchers from Austria, Belgium, France, the Federal Republic of Germany, the German Democratic Republic, Hungary, Italy, Netherlands, Poland, Switzerland, the Soviet Union, the UK, and the US. Davies and Kirstein were there from the UK, Cerf from the US, Lazzori from Italy. Kopetz from Austria, K. Fuchs-Kittowski from the Germany Democratic Republic. Also there was discussion at the workshop about what kind of network researchers the IIASA would develop to support their collaboration.
The IIASA conference in 1974 and the workshop in 1975 include reports on the networking research being done to create the Internet and other networks like the EIN. It is significant that at a group including researchers from both Eastern Europe, the US and Western Europe, the details of the internetworking developments were presented and discussed. Fuchs-Kittowski, a researcher from the GDR present at the 1975 workshop, remembers discussing possible participation in the UCL network in the UK by those from the German Democratic Republic. (See for example, Graphic III) There is at least one discussion in 1976 about whether or not to have an IIASA connection to the ARPANET or to the European Informatics Network (EIN). There was also international collaboration as part of the IFIP 6.1 working group toward the development of the Internet.
There are various streams of research that made contributions to the development of the Internet. The French research developing Cyclades/Cigale is an important example. The French contributed the concept of the datagram as a means of transporting data. Pouzin also is credited with the creation of the sliding window as a flow control mechanism.(6) There were discussions among those participating in the INWG, later called IFIP, WG 6.1, where decisions were considered about what the standards should be to create the protocol for an Internet. For example, Pouzin describes some of the meetings:
“Within INWG, which joined IFIP as WG 6.1, we had lengthy discussions about which level of protocol should be agreed first. It must have been during an INWG meeting on a boat (Stockholm-Turku and return) that a consensus developed on the principle of a common packet format. I don't have a record of this meeting in my diary, but I gather it was in August 1974, at the time of an IFIP Congress.”
(Pouzin, Email, April 28, 2003)
Pouzin was also at the IIASA 1974 conference and describes some of the discussion there. He writes:
“Yes, this was 21-24 October 1974. We kept refining a common packet format. I had cranked up a proposal overnight during the workshop, and I remember Peter Kirstein made some objections after a call to Vint Cerf in the US. I don't know if this paper was recorded in history, perhaps as an INWG note.”
(Pouzin, Email, April 28, 2003)
Describing the efforts that were made to link Cyclades and NPL, Pouzin explains:
“In the end, there never was an interconnection based on this plan. What occurred was a demo during an ICCC conference in Toronto, 3-5 August 1976. There was a Cyclades terminal concentrator (like a TIP) connected to Paris with a leased phone line. There, a link to NPL was using the packet network EIN (alias Cost 11), (if I remember). Then at NPL it was connected to the internal local net.
On the exhibit in Toronto, Derek Barber demonstrated using an NPL host through this patchwork. I felt it was amazing, if rather intricate.
Another more elaborate attempt was the definition of a protocol subset allowing a TCP-IP host to talk to a Cyclades host, without a gateway, simply by using a restricted set of protocol features. This work was carried out by Alex McKenzie from BBN. He wrote an INWG note. Maybe someone has a copy ! Presumably, there was not enough steam, and money, to implement the idea.”
(Pouzin, Email, April 28, 2003)
IV - Great Britain and the US Plan to Collaborate
As early as the end of 1970, there was discussion between American and British research groups on how to link the US and UK networks together. One plan was to utilize the connection between the US and Norway connecting the NORwegian Seismic ARray (NORSAR) near Oslo to the US. Describing this discussion, Peter Kirstein of the University College London (UCL)(7) writes:
"In late 1970, Larry Roberts proposed to Donald Davies that it would
be very interesting to link their two networks together. The existence
of the Washington to NORSAR line would make it comparatively cheap to
break the connection in London and link in the NPL network. There were
two problems with this plan; first of all we underestimated the tariff
implications of adding the extra drop-off point; secondly, the timing
could not have been worse from a British national perspective. The
problem was that the British government had just applied to join the
European Community; this made Europe good and the US bad from a
governmental policy standpoint. NPL was under the Department of
Technology and Donald was quite unable to take up Larry's offer. He had
to concentrate on European initiatives like the European Informatics
Network (EIN). In the meantime, I had been interested in the ARPANET
from the beginning; it was therefore agreed early in 1971, that we would
attempt to set up a project link in UCL instead of NPL." (Kirstein, Email,
July 3, 2002)
Through discussion between the UK and IPTO researchers, an agreement was reached for a research collaboration. Larry Roberts, according to Kirstein, "agreed to provide a Terminal Interface Message Processor (TIP) for the project, valued at 50,000 pounds, and to allow us to use the very expensive existing transatlantic link. It was merely for the UK to provide any manpower and travel costs needed to complete the project, and to provide the (assumed modest) cost of breaking the communications link in London....By the end of 1971, the technical proposal was complete." (Ibid.)
Kirstein describes how he struggled through most of 1972 trying to get funding support from the British government without success. "These machinations," he notes, "took most of 1972, and by the end of that period, the situation looked hopeless. Neither the SRC (Science Research Council) nor the DOI (Department of Industry) would supply any finance." (Ibid.)
Also the situation had changed with regard to the Washington to NORSAR link. "The Scandinavian Tanum Earth Station in Sweden had come on-stream," writes Kirstein, "as a result the US Norway connection no longer passed through the UK. Hence a new 9.6 kbps link between London and Kjeller was needed; the cost of this link was going to be very expensive." (Ibid.)(8)
Fortunately, the British Post Office (BPO) and NPL, two British government organizations, came through with the promise of support. Kirstein continues(9):
"Two senior directors of the BPO, Murray Laver of the National Data
Processing Service, and Alec Merriman of Advanced Technology, agreed
to provide the finance for the U.K. Norway link for one year. In
addition, Donald Davies agreed to promise the most he could sign for
personally, (5000 pounds). With these two modest contributions, I told
Larry Roberts that we would proceed."(Ibid.)
Even with this support, however, Kirstein was faced with a difficult working environment in the UK. He writes:
"It would be nice, in retrospect, to have called it a British decision;
it was not. There was grudging support, and the main research initiatives
were in pursuit of the X.25 protocol suite and its upper levels. There
was almost no European activity on the Internet Protocols outside Oslo
and UCL." (Kirstein, Email, October 4, 2002)
V- US and Norwegian Collaboration is Arranged
While these negotiations between UCL and IPTO were ongoing, IPTO invited Norwegian researchers to collaborate on resource sharing network research. After an invitation to the Norwegian Telecommunications Administration (NTA) did not generate interest, the IPTO extended an invitation to the Norwegian Defence Research Establishment (NDRE, "Forsvarets Forskningsinstitutt").
NDRE welcomed the proposed collaboration. According to Yngvar Lundh, one of the Internet pioneers in Norway, NDRE's interest in basic computing and networking research was the reason for the Norwegian collaboration with IPTO.(10)
On September 18, 1972, Larry Roberts and Robert (Bob) Kahn visited Norway, meeting with Lundh, then a research engineer at NDRE, Finn Lied, the director of NDRE, and Karl Holberg, the research superintendent of the NDRE electronics department. (Lundh, Email, April 24, 2002) Lundh had met Roberts several years earlier during Lundh's sabbatical in 1958-9 as a visiting researcher. He was at MIT’s Electronics
Systems Lab when Roberts was a graduate student finishing up his PhD. They were both using the TX-0.(11)
Lundh recalls that the meeting with the visitors from IPTO was held in Oslo at a civilian research administrative office at the Royal Norwegian Council for Scientific and Industrial Research. Also at the meeting were representatives from other Norwegian organizations. (Lundh, Email, April 26, 2002.) In a history in Norwegian of the role of Norway in early Internet development, Gisle Hannemyr writes that Lundh saw the collaboration with IPTO as "an opportunity to further advance data communication research in Norway."(Hannemyr)
Roberts and Kahn invited NDRE to collaborate and recommended they send researchers to the first International Computer Communications Conference (ICCC'72) planned for October 1972 in Washington, DC. There was to be a demonstration of the resource sharing packet switching network that was being developed in the US. Describing the importance of this event, Donald Davies writes:
“The meeting at the Washington Hilton in 1972 was quite the most
important and influential conference I have ever attended....I arrived
at the Hilton Hotel early to see what was happening and met an extraordinary
scene. On a podium was 'Terminal IMP' or TIP...joined to the existing ARPA network,
surrounded by many terminal devices of all kinds.
The astounding thing was a crowd of young, enthusiastic researchers who
were rushing around or huddled in earnest discussions trying to get
everything to work. Listening to their conversation we heard all that
we had been trying to promote for the previous 5 years being talked
about as self-evident -- a new and strange experience. Most of all,
one had the impression of a great amount of intellectual effort now
being applied to computer networking, which must grow in importance.
It was a complete turn-around, seemingly in one day, though in fact it
was the enormous efforts of the ARPA team that achieved this demonstration
and caused the revolutionary change in thinking about networks.
It completely changed attitudes to computer communications. Yet, many
of the ideas it fostered had been talked about for five years or more.
What happened in Washington was that people could now see these ideas
in the form of practical achievements. They could get a glimpse of the
intellectual impact that networks were destined to produce.”
Donald W. Davies, "Early Thoughts on Computer Communications"
Lundh writes that he attended the ICCC conference on October 25 and 26, 1972. While at the demonstration, he was invited to attend a meeting with other networking researchers from around the world held after the ICCC'72 at the Comsat Corporation (at L'Enfant Plaza). He writes that this meeting "may well have been the first Internet meeting."(Lundh, Email April 26, 2002) This was also the meeting where the International Network Working Group(INWG) was created. Lundh reports that at the meeting at Comsat, "The discussion(s) were in rather general terms as I recall, and mainly clarifying reasons for establishing a net of nets where each individual net would use the best low level protocol for utilizing the respective transmission. He estimates that there were 10-15 people there that day. Certainly Bob Kahn and most likely Dick Binder from BBN." (Lundh, Email, June 24, 2002) Kirstein notes that he was there. Cerf adds that he was there, along with Steve Crocker from ARPA, Louis Pouzin, Gesualdo Lemoli, Roger Scantlebury and perhaps Donald Davies. Also Kirstein presented a paper at the ICCC'72 conference.(12)
Although the research proposed by IPTO was new to him, Lundh found "the ideas interesting and accepted the invitation to participate in the development." (Lundh, Email, April 9, 2002) To actively participate in the research, he built "a small group of researchers which became one of ten groups which took part in basic Internet research during a ten year period from 1972." (Lundh, Email, April 9, 2002) He was frustrated, however, trying to muster resources and was hoping for some assistance from ARPA. But he also realized that it was difficult for IPTO to help fund the Norwegian researchers. (Lundh, Email, July 12, 2002)
Lundh reports, "I had no financial support in the beginning, but I formalized a small 'job' called 'Radio Data Systems-RADA' at NDRE with the purpose (of) fitting in with ARPA's resource sharing (research)." In the beginning of the collaboration, Lundh had to support the travel and the research he did in his spare time with
other projects he was working on. For the first few years, he recalls, he had help from two graduate students whose thesis work he was supervising.
The ARPANET TIP was not put at NDRE which was in a military area with restricted, and thus, limited access. Instead it was placed in NORSAR's building which was on the other side of the fence from NDRE. Lundh explains that "seismic array technology or test detection was not NDRE's reason for placing the NDRE TIP at NORSAR.(13) It was a practical arrangement for us, and probably a convenient arrangement for ARPA too." (Lundh, Email, April 18, 2002) The TIP at NORSAR was thus at a civilian facility, providing access for more widespread Norwegian participation
in networking research and facilitating academic collaboration in networking.(Lundh, Email, April 18, 2002)
A problem the Norwegian group faced, according to Lundh, was that it was difficult to build a research team given the lack of funding. "It was hard to convince Norwegian financing sources of the importance of computer networking," Lundh writes.(Lundh, 18) He was excited by the concept of resource sharing. "My reasons for wanting to participate," he explains, "were that I intuitively thought the
possibilities of resource sharing were fantastic." Lundh elaborates, "I saw 'resource sharing' as (providing-ed) interesting possibilities in several 'dimensions', resources being expensive programs, special data, ideas, people with various interests and capabilities, etc." (Lundh, Email, July 12, 2002) Despite these funding difficulties, the Norwegian research group made an important contribution to the development of TCP/IP and the Internet.